The Cast of Shadows
Newport, Rhode Island is a stately old town poised on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. There are numerous mansions here, many sporting bed and breakfasts and tours for the guests. These mansions serve not as residences, but as summer homes for New England's elite. One such mansion built of rough stone and dating back to the late-1700's is the current residence of a very special girl.
She walks down the hallway, her small white boots clicking on the hardwood floor. She wears a pleated riding skirt and a white button-up blouse with a pale pink heart on each breast pocket. White blonde hair, cut in a pageboy, peeks out from underneath a lavender velvet riding cap. She is the picture of innocence, if you ignore the riding crop clenched in her small fist. Her other hand holds the reins of a white pony, which trails reluctantly behind. The servants and housekeepers ignore the presence of the pony in the house, though they nod and smile at the girl as she passes. None would dare speak out against the girl's behavior; any transgression against Mr. Frost's daughter would not go unpunished.
Little Emma Frost is ten years old, ten-and-three-quarters if you ask her personally. She can hear other people's thoughts, and has been able to for as long as she can remember. It began as small whispers at first, but soon progressed to the point where she was able to actually change people's minds to suit her whims. It didn't occur to her that others might not have this special gift until she was able to use her powers on them. After that, getting exactly what she wanted was easy.
Emma approached the door of her father's study. He was usually there, talking on the phone to one of his business partners. Emma understood business. She had seen into her daddy's head and then suddenly the swirl of numbers had cohered into understanding. Emma's favorite television station was CNBC. She even knew how Enron made money. Emma pushed open the dark wood door and watched it sweep over the plush carpet on the floor of the study. The room was dark, but that was not so unusual. The maid often pulled the window shades to keep the sun from bleaching the lustrous wood desk and rich upholstery.
"Daddy?" Emma called to the high-backed leather chair. The chair was turned so that the back faced the door. She could just make out the top of her daddy's head. Emma's little rosebud mouth pulled into a pout. "Daddy, Crumpet and I want more Oreos, but there are none left."
The chair turned so she could see her father in profile. He was silent and the phone receiver which was usually pressed to his ear was in the cradle. Emma's mind reached out so she could sneak a look into his thoughts. She suddenly recoiled. It felt as if she had gotten her hand slapped, like the time she tried to take more cookies from the jar, only it was her mind that had been smacked away.
"Where's my daddy?" she asked as she rubbed her forehead. "You're not him."
"No, Emma, I am not," the man replied. "That's a nice pony you have there."
"Don't patronize me, mister. I'm not a child."
The man smiled. "Oh, but you are, Emma. And that is what makes you so wonderful. You are very smart, and you know many things that most children do not know, but you are still a small girl." His words came slowly and with great care. It was as if he was concentrating very hard, or was distracted by something else. It was several long moments before he spoke again. "I have something I want to show you, Emma. It's a wonderful world. Someplace only a few people can see."
"I'm not supposed to talk to strangers, or go anywhere with them," Emma said. She was nervous. She had never been denied from hearing another person's thoughts before.
"You can call me Shadow," the man said. "There. Now we aren't strangers anymore. And we wouldn't be going anywhere, per se. We would be right here, in this office. Our minds would take us on the journey."
Shadow smiled, then his mouth twitched and quirked as if he had lost control of it. "Yes," he said finally, once he had worked the word from his twitching lips. "Just like imagination. Only your imagination is much more powerful than any ordinary child's is. Will you let me take you there?"
Emma shifted from one foot to the other. Who was this strange man that used her daddy's mouth to talk? Did he mind-speak too? And where was this magic world that only she could see?
"Can Crumpet come too?"
Jean walked down the metal corridor leading to the room where Cerebro was kept. Her pace slowed as she neared the heavy doors. There was someone else in the room, and he was talking quietly to himself. As she rounded the corner, she found Hank McCoy seated before the computer. The faceplate had been removed and several boards were set on the floor.
"What are you doing?" her voice rang out in the vastness of the room.
Hank's head jerked up, startled out of his reverie. He turned to her and his surprised expression softened when recognition dawned on him. "Oh, hello Jean. I was just doing some updates on Cerebro for the professor."
Jean's eyes narrowed slightly, as if in suspicion.
"I should have him back up and running again in a few hours," Hank continued, patting the control panel affectionately. "You've been spending an awful lot of time down here. Here it is all ready July and you're wasting away your summer vacation down in the dank depths of the Institute."
She shifted slightly, from a rigid stance to a slightly more relaxed position. "I'm a red-head, Mr. McCoy. Fifteen minutes of sun equals fifteen-hundred freckles, or a beet-red sunburn."
"Might I suggest a large hat, then?" Hank said with a grin. "Fifty SPF sun block, or a coat of shaggy blue fur? You won't have to worry about the sun today, my dear. Storm is watering her plants. The others have gathered in the recreation room, if you'd like to join them."
"Can you let me know when you're finished with Cerebro?" Jean
"Will do, Red," he replied. "Now scat. Go join your comrades. Have some fun."
Jean sighed and turned away from Beast. She walked back up the corridor to the elevator that would take her to the upper floors of the mansion. As the doors hissed shut before her, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the polished steel doors. Her fingers traced her cheek. She looked pale, paler than usual for the fair-skinned red headed girl, and her face looked gaunt. She felt tired, which was odd, since she hadn't been overexerting herself much. In fact, the summer months had given her respite from her numerous extra-curricular activities: soccer, field hockey, track and field, choir, and dance, not to mention her honors classes and regular school work. Getting ready for high school graduation had been strenuous, what with preparing for college and writing her speech as school valedictorian. She had a few months off before college classes started; perhaps she should be enjoying them before the whole cycle began again.
The elevator reached the aboveground floor and the doors opened. True to what the Beast had told her, the windows were rain splattered and the grounds outside were damp. Mist hung in wisps between the trees and across the grass. Jean followed the hall to the recreation room and paused in the doorway. Rogue was seated on the couch under the air conditioning vent. The cool breeze stirred her hair as she read an Anne Rice novel. Reclining on the couch beside her was Remy, who was reading a comic book and had a stack of unread comics on the floor beside him. Kitty was on the floor sitting cross-legged with her laptop in front of her. She snapped her gum as she typed. Scott and Polaris were playing a game of darts and judging by the look on Scott's face, Lorna was winning.
"You're cheating," Scott proclaimed hotly as Lorna gathered the darts from the board.
Lorna cast a mischievous grin over her shoulder. "No one likes a sore loser, Scott," she said. "I'm surprised at you! I would think someone who can shoot lasers out of his eyes would have better aim."
Rogue snickered from behind her book and Kitty turned to watch Lorna and Scott's argument.
"If it weren't raining, I would take you out to the basketball court and show you what's what," Scott said. "That's with a rubber ball. Something you can't steer with your powers."
"Is that a challenge, Mr. Summers?" Lorna sniffed. "Frankly, I'm insulted at your insinuation that I used my powers to win."
"I didn't say that," Scott replied. "What I did insinuate, however, was the fact you used your powers to make me lose!"
Lorna glanced over her shoulder and spotted Jean in the doorway. "Jeannie! You know me best. Tell Specs over here that I'm not a cheater."
Remy tilted his head back over the couch. "Hey, chere. Decided t'join de land of de living for awhile, eh?"
"What happened?" Rogue asked. "Did'ja short circuit your boyfriend down there?" Jean gave Rogue a glare, but saw the other girl was smiling to soften the sting of her words.
Jean stepped into the room. "I wanted to go out and play tennis," she lied. "But it looks as if the weather's not going to cooperate."
Scott turned to the window. "I'll have to ask Storm if she's done with her plants," he said. "I've got orientation at the university today, and I'd hate to have to walk the campus in this rain." He took the darts Lorna offered him. "Want to play?" he asked before throwing.
Before Jean could answer, Rogue was on her feet. "Forget it, Scott. Make some room," she said, nudging him aside. "Let me learn you a few things." Lorna passed Rogue a dart. Rogue barely paused to aim before shooting. It cleanly hit the bulls-eye with a thunk.
"Wow, Rogue!" Lorna said. "You're a natural. Ha, maybe I've finally found some real competition."
"Where did you learn t'do that?" Remy said. His voice had an angry twinge to it.
Rogue casually flipped her hair back over her ear. "Just a little somethin' Ah picked up," she said with a haughty smile.
"Oh really," Remy said, climbing to his feet. "Y'think you might've just picked that up from somebody else, maybe? Like from me?"
Rogue put her hands on her hips and gave Remy a glare. "So what's the big deal?" she demanded. "It's part of my power, ain't it?"
"What else might you have 'picked up' from my head?" Remy demanded.
"Leave Rogue alone, Gambit," Scott interjected. "Why don't you just shut up."
"Why don't you just mind your own damn business," retorted Gambit. "What part of your personality did Rogue absorb from you? Let's hope it wasn't the 'condescending ass part.'"
"Excuse me?" Rogue said, balling her fists.
"Oh, boy," Lorna said under her breath.
"All right, kiddies," called a voice as a formidable presence filled the doorway to the rec room. "Gambit, that's five for fighting. Penalty box for you." The teens turned to see Wolverine standing out in the hall. "Prof wants to talk t'you," he continued, jerking his thumb back down the hall.
Gambit glowered at Wolverine.
"Ooo," Rogue said, tauntingly, "you're in trouble!"
He muttered something in French and then Remy sidled past Wolverine and marched out the door.
"Is he always like this?" Lorna asked, speaking to no one in particular.
Scott began to make an angry comment when Jean interrupted. "Not since lately," she said quietly. "Don't mind him, Rogue. I'm sure he didn't mean anything--"
"Y'don't have to speak for him, Jean," Rogue snapped. "Ah read his message loud and clear. He's got to right t'jump all over me for somethin' Ah can't control. B'sides! Ah ain't the only one who's sneaked a peep in someone else's head."
Jean sighed and turned away from the room. She could sense that Gambit had aroused Rogue's anger and she was angling for a fight. Jean was too tired to spar with the girl. Even as she walked towards the stairs she could hear Rogue's voice demanding: "What are you lookin' at?" Jean felt like taking a nap. Just a small one, to rest for a couple minutes.
Soon, Hank would be done with Cerebro. He said he would tell her when he was finished. She could wait just a while longer. And then Cerebro would be hers again.
The rain had let up to a light drizzle. A faint lightening of the clouds indicated that the storm had passed. Scott followed the other freshman across the sodden college campus. He was only half-listening to the tour guide, fixating mostly on his inner thoughts and carefully avoiding puddles of water. It was nice to be away from the Institute for awhile. He felt a bit stir-crazy over the past few days. Unlike many of the other X-Men, he didn't have another home to go visit, just a brother who lived half a world away. As it was, he wasn't getting on too well with the surrogate family he did have. Between practice sessions in the Danger Room and the recent outbreak of arguments, he was feeling that this was the most stressful summer vacation he'd ever had. Even more hurtful was being estranged from Jean. Scott barely recognized the girl he had grown up with. She acted so differently; she even looked different. And she spent all her time holed up in the basement with Cerebro.
The group of freshman came to a halt before the student center while the guide talked about the residence halls. Scott mulled over the earlier incident in the recreation room. He recalled Jean's sallow face and the dark circles under her eyes. He didn't get a chance to talk to her then; Gambit had had another irrational outburst. Scott gave an irritated sigh. He wished he didn't have to rely on Gambit for the upcoming mission, the other boy was completely bipolar. One minute calm and silent, the next he was flying off the handle. If the X-Men weren't so shorthanded, with Kurt off in Germany visiting his family and Evan in summer school, he wouldn't have Gambit on the mission at all. And then there was Jean's outright refusal to join the mission. What had gotten into her?
As he thought, he found himself staring blankly at the back of the girl standing in front of him. She shifted slightly, and turned her head. At that moment, the sun broke free from the clouds, spilling warm golden light onto the student center pavilion. The bright sun reflecting off of the wet pavement momentarily dazzled Scott. He blinked his eyes and when he looked up the girl was facing him. Sunlight glinted off of her scarlet colored hair.
Scott found that his mouth was slightly agape. The tour guide intruded upon the moment, dismissing the freshman to his or her own whiles.
"Guess the tour is over," the red headed girl said.
Scott nodded dumbly at first and then snapped out of his reverie. "Oh, right. Yes, I guess so," he said lamely.
The girl laughed. It was a sound of cascading notes that had Scott grinning. "I'm starving," she said. "Do you remember where the cafeteria was?"
"Yeah, actually, I can take you to The Hub inside the student center. Now that you mention it, I could use a bite myself."
"Great, maybe you can join me?" she asked. "My name is Madelyne, by the way."
"Hi, nice to meet you," Scott said, offering his hand which she shook. As she leaned forward he caught a glimpse of a silver chain around her neck and the ring that dangled from it. The ring swung free from beneath her collar and Madelyne clasped it against her chest.
A faint flush crept over her cheeks. "Oh, you must think I'm completely immature, wearing my boyfriend's class ring on my neck. How high school-ish."
"Not at all," Scott replied, somewhat dismayed that she had a boyfriend. "We've only been out of high school for a month now. Some things are hard to break. I still wear my letterman jacket when no one is looking."
Madelyne smiled at him. "You didn't tell me your name."
"I'm Scott," he said.
She laughed again. "How funny!" she exclaimed. "My boyfriend's name is Scott, too."
"Guess that will make me hard to forget," Scott said.
"I can't imagine forgetting a face like yours," she said with a wink.
Scott spent the rest of the afternoon with Madelyne, chatting in the cafeteria. He had been dumbstruck at first by the similarities between Madelyne and Jean, and he kept finding himself comparing the two. Madelyne was shorter by several inches. She was heavier than Jean, but more curvaceous. Jean's face was more planar, while Madelyne's face was softer and rounder. Her cheeks seemed to have a perpetual blush to them. Her hair fell to her shoulders, and ended in a soft curl. Overall, she was beautiful and charming. But her similarities to Jean were somewhat distracting.
"So what are you planning on majoring in?" Madelyne asked.
"Telecommunications," Scott said. "Broadcasting."
"Do you want to be on the radio then?" she asked. "You have the voice for it."
Scott ducked his head slightly. "What about you? What's your major?"
"I'm in the aviation program," she said. "I want to be a pilot."
"Really? That's cool," Scott took a sip from his drink. "My father was a pilot."
"Was he? What made him quit?"
He fiddled with the straw in the cup, making it squeak as he pushed it in and out of the cap. "Uhm, he died in a plane crash."
Madelyne's eyes turned sad and her hand stole across the tabletop to touch Scott's fingers. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have mentioned it."
Scott waved his hand in dismissal. "There's nothing to be sorry about. You couldn't have known."
"I was in a plane accident once, too," Madelyne said quietly, as if admitting to something she was ashamed of. She idly fingered a shiny pink scar on her forearm. "I don't really remember much of it. They told me I was the only one who survived, and that somehow I had walked away from the accident."
"That's amazing," Scott said. "You're lucky to be alive. But you still want to fly for a living?"
Madelyne smiled, somewhat embarrassed. "I can't help it. I just love to fly. I should be traumatized, but I can't recall the plane crash. Maybe that's why I'm not afraid. Do you still fly?"
"Actually, yes. Quite a bit."
"I could take you up some time," she said and turned to shuffle through her purse. "Here," she said, as she took out a scrap of paper and scribbled on it with a pen. "My e-mail address." She pushed the note across the table. Scott took it from her fingers. "I'll be living on campus next fall, maybe we can bump into each other some time?"
"I'd like that," Scott said.
Madelyne smiled and gathered up her tray and purse. "Nice meeting you Scott," she said and giggled. "Don't be a stranger, now."
Scott waved as she sauntered off. He admired the way she walked, the gentle sway of her hips. She wasn't anything like Jean, he thought to himself, not at all. Then he suddenly wondered whom he was trying to convince.
Continued in Chapter 3
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